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Building Business to Improve Lives

Colloquialisms such as “getting back on one’s feet” feel particularly apropos for footwear brand TOMS. Well known for its style meets comfort aesthetic that offers a range of product from alpargatas and boots to slip-ons, sneakers, slippers, and sandals, the brand is also steeped in the impact space, and its efforts are focused well beyond footwear.

And TOMS’s approach to impact, particularly in mental health resources and its support of women, begins with education. Amy Smith, Chief Giving Officer at TOMS, told Fairchild Studio, “At TOMS we always start our process of creating impact by doing everything we can to better understand the issue and learning through the expertise of our impact partners. It’s no secret that our collective mental health is at the forefront for almost everyone. We know that every year 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental health challenge.”

The TOMS business model funds access to mental health resources through purchase of its products, Smith noted, adding that “This is what makes our evolved model of creating impact so powerful.”

Smith said that although the brand has been supporting mental health partnerships since 2015, through more recent research, TOMS has learned that access to resources is a common issue for its consumers. “Many people would like to access mental health resources and support but often don’t know where to start. Considering our impact history, the significant number of Americans that live with mental health challenges, and what we know of the barriers to receiving care, we felt the best place for us to contribute is to support organizations that are supporting people in taking those first steps to receive care – people that need a place to turn in a moment of mental health challenge.”

Its maxim that “TOMS is in business to improve lives” takes form in the brand’s notable contributions in community investment and positive impacts. Smith told Fairchild Studio, “Thanks to our incredible community of supporters and impact partners, in 2021, TOMS gave over $2 million dollars to support grassroots organizations, much of that focused on mental health. We also increased our B Corp score across all categories of ESG by 25 percent to a new score 121.5.”

The company’s investments in mental health and female empowerment span from supporting organizations such as Brave Trails, a leadership-focused summer camp for LGBTQ+ youth that launched a mental health program tailored to the young people they serve to Letters to Strangers, who work to destigmatize mental illness and increase access to affordable, quality treatment, particularly for youth, the brand shared.

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And perhaps the brand’s upcoming campaign launching May 1st, aptly titled “Wear Good,” best encapsulates TOMS’s method for rallying around a cause and consciously engaging with consumers. Ian Stewart, Chief Marketing Officer at TOMS, said that the campaign will be launched in tandem with Mental Health Awareness Month.

Stewart told Fairchild Studio, “We worked with Portland based agency Kamp Grizzly to develop a call-to-action that spoke to our brand mission – being in business to improve lives, our approach to impact – giving one third of profits for grassroots good, and our products, comfortable shoes that look good. Wear Good was the CTA that hit the mark, and in fact feels like the sort of line that can live with us for years to come.”

Self-described as a fully integrated, global campaign spanning owned and partner channels, outdoor ads in key cities, digital ads that connect with its target consumers, editorial and PR, influencers, and product collaborations with Wildfang and The Happiness Project, the message for Wear Good celebrates, among others, Brave Trails and The Dinner Party, a platform for 20- and 30- somethings that are navigating the grieving process after significant loss, two of TOMS impact partners.

And to complement its campaign, TOMS made a film in support of mental health and “the importance of taking that first step,” Stewart said, with Charlotte-based agency Hue House. “It’s going to be a busy month, and a great set up for Wear Good as an evergreen idea that speaks to all that we believe in and do at TOMS.”

Smith emphasized that TOMS “is committed to bringing mental health resources to marginalized communities. We focus on LGBTQ+, BIPOC and Women & Girls. We believe that empowerment comes from within and lived experience creates powerful leaders.”

“This rings true with many of the female founders and leaders at the organizations we support. Like Carla, the co-founder of the Dinner Party, through her lived experience she identified a critical need and built a global network of support for grieving folks in their 20’s and 30’s, or Diana, the founder of Letters to Strangers, a 22-year-old, first generation, Chinese American immigrant navigating her own mental health challenges and not finding the resources she needed so she started creating them for others, or female lead GirlForward creating safe spaces for girls to become their best selves, and the list goes on.”

“These women don’t let anything stand in their way of creating positive change for the communities they support. We are very proud to be a small part of their amazing work,” Smith noted.

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One Step at a Time

As a top-rated B Corp – which recently received the organization’s ‘Best for the World 2021’ award and placed in the top five percent of organizations in the Community category – TOMS works to meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability. Smith told Fairchild Studio, “Now in 2022, we are sharpening our focus even more on mental health, and doubling-down on funding access to mental health resources for the millions of people who need them. A few of our key partners include Homeboy Industries, Letters to Strangers, and the Venice Family Clinic, with a pledge to provide access to mental health resources for 50 million people.”

And sustainability for TOMS is an energized momentum toward perpetual improvement. Its recent impact report proves its drive to advance sustainability efforts and transparency, and according to Smith, TOMS takes a three-pronged approach to tracking its own process. “We have a 360-degree holistic view of our impact with clear focus on three things: Purpose, meaning our commitment to mental health; Planet, doing our part for the place we all call home; and People, as we know ground up change start with us and we must walk the talk of our mission and vision; volunteering and learning together as a staff, ensuring fair labor practices and growing or DEIA efforts.”

“We share our progress and learnings through an annual impact report that helps our supporters understand how our impact works and where our giving is going. We know this level of transparency and continuous improvement is not only important to share but expected by the growing community of thoughtful, socially conscious consumers,” Smith said.

“Our evolved approach brought a new sense of authenticity to the brand. Brand awareness has increased around key marketing moments, and we have seen a rise in new supporters to the brand. We’ve got big goals ahead of us. So, we will continue to focus on ESG by prioritizing funding – and awareness to grassroots mental health organizations.”

After 15 years of One for One giving and positively impacting 100 million lives, TOMS felt it was time to innovate its approach to creating impact, Smith told Fairchild Studio. “Over the last few years that evolution has been a labor of love and a passionate commitment to best in class social impact. As you can imagine it has also meant big change for the organization and it’s been worth it. We are excited about our new brand direction, which has been well received inside and outside of TOMS.”

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Building Business to Improve Lives

TOMS discusses its approach to mental health awareness and female empowerment through impact initiatives in the footwear segment.
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